Jim Schwartz's thinking man's approach

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good article by Michael Rosenberg at Freep.com on Coach Jim Schwartz's thinking man's approach to attempting to turn around the Lions.

While in the past the Lions have brought in system coaches -- the West Coast offenses of Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci; the Tampa Two defense of Rod Marinelli; Schwartz is not wedded to any particular concept that requires forcing players to fit into a particular system. Instead, he makes a study of what it takes to win in the NFL, and seeks out multidimensional players -- physically and mentally -- who can adapt to situations. Schwartz says that's a Bill Belichick trademark. It allows a team to better adapt to injuries and the other team's weaknesses.

There's an interesting passage on Schwartz's interest in football analyst Aaron Schatz's work:

(Schatz) is the founder of FootballOutsiders.com, which is sort of a think tank for football. Schatz crunches numbers to ask the same question Schwartz asks: How do you win?

"If you have multidimensional players, now you don't have to fit what you do to your strengths," Schatz said. "You fit what you do to other teams' weaknesses. The more multidimensional your players, and your team, you can go after what the other team can't stop, instead of what you can do well."

Not surprising, Jim Schwartz -- more than any other NFL coach -- has taken an interest in Schatz's work. When Schwartz was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, he invited Schatz to spend a week with him in Nashville in the off-season, watching film and talking football. Schatz even stayed at Schwartz's house.

"He's the only coach in the league who knows what DVOA is, and he would rather see his team finish first in DVOA than yards," Schatz said.

DVOA is Schatz's biggest and best creation. The full name is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Essentially, Schatz matches every play against what the rest of the league does in that same situation, then adjusts for strength of opponent. It is an attempt to show that a 4-yard run on third-and-14 is not as valuable as a 4-yard run on third-and-3.

Schwartz has been preaching that for years. He can punch a hole in any of the commonly accepted stats. The total-yards stat, that drives him crazy. It gives too much weight to garbage time.

A few years ago, when his defense was struggling in the red zone, Schwartz picked up tape of the No. 1 red-zone defense in the league, to see if he could learn something. "I put in the tape, and I started watching," Schwartz said. "I'm like 'Good gracious!' They had two games where they finished games with the offense taking a knee in the red zone. They were losing the game! But that's a red-zone stop on defense. They also had an overtime game that they lost that they gave up a field goal in the red zone. That's a red-zone stop."

He has not looked at red-zone numbers the same way since. He has seen other coaches pile up stats at the end of games, sometimes putting their stars in harm's way to do it, and he is incredulous.

Everything the NFL takes for granted, Schwartz questions. That doesn't mean he disagrees. It means he does not automatically agree.

In Tennessee, he told the offensive coaches they should run more on third-and-short. He knew. He had crunched the numbers.

When the Lions were deciding what to do with their second first-round pick last spring, Schwartz pushed for tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The conventional wisdom was that they had bigger needs than a tight end. Schwartz says "our number one need was talent," and it would have been foolish to ignore the highest-rated player on their draft board.

So far the Lions haven't had a lot of success under Schwartz. But I like the guy's approach. I feel infinitely more confident with him at the helm than I ever did under Marinelli. You get the sense that now it's a matter of bringing talent in -- a massive undertaking post-Millen. And that given talent, Schwartz will know how to win with it.

Talk about it in The Den!